Biden Rescinding the 1776 Commission Doesn't End the Fight over HistoryRoundup
tags: teaching history, Donald Trump, 1776 commission
Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She co-hosts the history podcast Past Present and This Day in Esoteric Political History.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed a stack of executive orders, doing everything from rescinding the Muslim travel ban to reversing the US departure from the World Health Organization to asking federal agencies to extend their moratoriums on foreclosure and eviction during the pandemic. But he also revoked one of the Trump administration's final projects: the 1776 Commission.
The commission, an advisory committee of academics and conservative activists convened by then-President Donald Trump, issued a 41-page report on Monday, seeking to counter the 1619 Project, a New York Times initiative that explored the central role of slavery and anti-Black racism in US history.
Denouncing works that "tell America's story solely as one of oppression and victimhood," the 1776 Commission's report insists that real history is history that focuses on the country's successes, with only an occasional nod to its failures.
The people behind the report had been directed by Trump to develop a program for "patriotic education." And while the report has little to do with academic history -- it has no footnotes or sources, and large chunks appear to be cribbed from op-eds and other polemics -- it exemplifies the worst misuses of history during the Trump era: as myth and propaganda.
The report itself does not amount to much. It is the detritus of the waning days of the Trump administration, a bit of unfinished business sent out the door in the closing hours and now swept away by an incoming administration. But as a study in the growth of right-wing pseudohistory, it's a key document.
As pseudohistory, it argues from ideology rather than evidence, starting with an argument -- that all bad things come from the left -- and then pretzeling the past to fit a politically expedient thesis, one that deliberately erases the need to grapple with things like racism or contradiction. Under the Trump administration, proponents of this ideology reached a new peak of influence, and Trump's defeat does not relegate them to the fringe.
Reading history through the 1776 Commission's ideological lens produces some pretty strange conclusions. In the report, anti-racists and anti-fascists are the successors of enslavers and Nazis.
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